Dominic Cummings tried to fast track £530,000 grant to external Covid data team with ‘no procurement, no lawyers, no meetings, no delay’, leaked e-mails say

  • Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser urged civil servants to issue the payment
  • This was with ‘no procurement, no lawyers, no meetings, no delay’, emails say
  • The Government department involved insisted due diligence had been followed
  • Labour said it was another example of the Government’s ‘disdain’ for the rules

Dominic Cummings tried to fast track a £530,000 grant to an external data team – bypassing normal Whitehall procedures, leaked emails suggest.

Boris Johnson’s former top adviser urged civil servants to issue the payment with ‘no procurement, no lawyers, no meetings, no delay’, according to the messages.

The Government department involved – the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) – insisted that due diligence had been followed in issuing the grant.

But Labour said it was another example of the Government’s ‘disdain’ for the rules governing the use of taxpayers’ money under Mr Johnson’s leadership.

Earlier this month a High Court judge ruled a decision to award a contract to a firm whose bosses were friends of Cummings was unlawful.

 Boris Johnson’s former top adviser (pictured) urged civil servants to issue the payment with ‘no procurement, no lawyers, no meetings, no delay’, according to the messages

What is Our World in Data? Oxford University project that created data system used by the UN, US and WHO

Our World in Data is a research project run by a not-profit organisation and Oxford academics.

The scientific online publication focuses on large global problems such as poverty, disease, hunger, climate change, war, existential risks, and inequality.

It was created by Oxford University researcher Max Roser – a social historian and development economist –  in 2011 but gained fame during the pandemic.

It started publishing global data on Covid-19 and founded the worldwide database on testing for coronavirus.

This was used by the UN, the US government and the WHO.

It did the same for vaccinations this year, which has also been used by the WHO. 

Mr Cummings’ intervention, in March 2020, followed a request from Our World in Data – a research project run by a not-profit organisation and Oxford academics – which said it needed funding to retain staff generating data on the pandemic.

The request was said to have been passed to Health Secretary Matt Hancock who emailed Matthew Gould, the head of NHSX – the unit responsible for the digital transformation of the NHS – saying he supported the grant.

It was then followed by an email to Mr Gould from Mr Cummings stating: ‘Someone please ensure that they have the 530k within 24 hours from now and report back to me it’s been sent.’

According to seen by The Guardian, the BBC’s File on 4 and Source Material, it said: ‘No procurement, no lawyers, no meetings, no delay please – just send immediately.’

Mr Gould expressed concern, saying his team could meet the request through the DHSC and ‘have the money in place by tomorrow’, but it would mean ‘waiving the normal grant-giving process’.

He wrote to another official: ‘I don’t want to do anything untoward, but given the secretary of state’s and Dom Cumming’s strong steer I’d really welcome your help/advice/green light.’

The grant was subsequently issued in four instalments from summer 2020.

Mr Cummings left the No 10 in November amid the fallout of an internal power struggle and has become a critic of the Government’s handling of the pandemic.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: ‘This Government under Boris Johnson’s leadership clearly think the rules do not apply to them.

‘Time after time the Tories have shown a disdain for the rules and laws governing how taxpayers’ money is spent.

‘Emergency suspension of procurement rules needs to end and due process must be followed.’

The request was said to have been passed to Health Secretary Matt Hancock who emailed Matthew Gould (pictured), the head of NHSX – the unit responsible for the digital transformation of the NHS – saying he supported the grant

A Government spokesman said: ‘The Government has done everything it could to stop the spread of infection and to save lives, while following proper processes.

‘Every contract agreed by the Government with partners has proper due diligence carried out on it, with these checks taken extremely seriously to ensure our contracts deliver results and value for money.

‘As part of this national effort, we harnessed the best of the public and private sectors to develop the tools to keep people safe including the NHS Covid-19 app which is estimated to have stopped 600,000 infections and saved more than 8,700 lives.’

Earlier this month a High Court judge ruled a decision to award a contract to a firm whose bosses were friends of Cummings was unlawful.

Campaigners took legal action against the Cabinet Office over the decision to pay £560,000 of taxpayers’ money to market research firm Public First, following the start of the coronavirus crisis in March 2020, and questioned the involvement of Mr Cummings.

Lawyers representing the Good Law Project said Mr Cummings wanted focus group and communications support services work to be given to a company whose bosses were his friends.

Ministers and Mr Cummings – who left Downing Street late in 2020 – disputed the Good Law Project’s claim.

Mrs Justice O’Farrell, who is based in London, considered rival arguments at a virtual High Court hearing in February and delivered a ruling on Wednesday.

She said: ‘The claimant is entitled to a declaration that the decision of 5 June 2020 to award the contract to Public First gave rise to apparent bias and was unlawful.’

The Guardian and the BBC said Mr Cummings had been contacted for comment on the latest revelations – but he had not responded.

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